2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Iverson’s an old man; Billups is only beginning

    Thu, April 30, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

     

     

     

     

              Allen Iverson might be done. Chauncey Billups has only begun.

              The Denver Nuggets season is, at its core, the story of two men. Iverson is the man who was shipped away. Billups is the man who came  home to revive a franchise.

              The Iverson for Billups trade, completed in November, is right up there with the best trades in Colorado sports history. There’s the Broncos stealing John Elway from the  Colts and the Avs swiping Patrick Roy from Montreal.

              And there’s the Nuggets making Detroit Pistons guru Joe Dumars look utterly silly.

              Billups has carried the Nuggets to the their first playoff series victory since 1994. He brought a new brand of work ethic to Denver. He changed a franchise from a fun-to-watch circus to a diligent, if not quite so entertaining, winner.

              At 7:21 Wednesday night, Billups was lacing up his shoes as he   prepared to battle Chris Paul. Meanwhile, Iverson was back home with his five children after a disappointing season  with the Pistons.

              Iverson has hinted he may retire. That, Allen, would be a great idea.

              Nuggets coach George Karl grimaced when asked to define the differences between Billups and Iverson.

    “I don’t know if I want to answer that,” Karl said.

    But he did.

          “They’re just two different tyle of players. Chauncey likes … to be a team leader and a daily responsible guy and A.I. just likes to play.”

              And, Karl explained, Billups fully embraces his role as point guard. Iverson could only impersonate a point guard.

              Iverson was, at his peak, a mini Michael Jordan. He was the NBA’s quickest player. He could not be stopped.

            But as Iverson aged, his me-first act drained a team instead of lifted it. Iverson is only a year older than Billups, but his style doesn’t work now that he’s lost a step.

          Billups places his teammates needs above his own. He emphasizes defense over offense. He’s utterly dedicated to victory and only slightly interested in the showy side of the game.

          He’s converted the Nuggets from playoff losers to playoff victors.

          Iverson played a young man’s version of the game, which means he wanted everyone – including his teammates – to get out of his way so he could score. Iverson’s style turned him into an old man on the court before his time.

          Billups plays a version of the game that will keep him young. He uses his teammates to lighten his load. He could keep passing and defending his way to wins for a long time.

          Utah’s John Stockton once played the game with the same precision and passion that Billups now delivers for the Nuggets.

          And here’s the encouraging number to remember about Stockton. He played, and played well, until he was 40.

          Billups is 32, which means the good times could roll in Denver for another half-decade.

          At least.

     

  • A rout for the ages

    Tue, April 28, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    The Denver Nuggets offered a statement to the NBA Monday night. They destroyed the New Orleans Hornets so totally, so impressively, that you have to include the team in the discussion of possible champs.

    Don’t get me wrong. The Nuggets remain a distant third behind LeBron James and his Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant and his Lakers, but the team led by Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups has a chance. The Nuggets deserve to be part of the title discussion.

    The Hornets didn’t do much to slow the Nuggets stampede, but what impressed me is Denver’s relentlessness. The Nuggets never let up. They played with more focus and more effort than the Hornets for the entire game. They played rugged, hustling defense. They passed with imagination and generosity. And Anthony was spectacular in the first half. When the Hornets doubled him, he repeatedly found open teammates.

    Only a miracle can save the Hornets. Only the most pessimistic Nuggets could imagine a revival led by Chris Paul.

    A  journey to the Western Conference finals is looking probable. Not certain, but probable.

  • More on Michael P.

    Mon, April 27, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Michael Phelps is one of those characters who inspires fierce loyalty.

    And marijuana is one of those substances that ignites fierce debate.

    So it’s no big surprise that a column earlier this year on Phelps left  my e-mail box and my voicemail jammed, mostly with unhappy readers.

    I’d like to clarify a few things.

    A) Several people were shocked that I was shocked by Phelps’ behavior, but I said in the column I wasn’t surprised. I was not shocked. I am not shocked.

    B) Several people wrote or called to inform me that Phelps isn’t the only 23-year-old in America who smokes marijuana. Lots of people of all ages smoke pot, I was told. Thanks for the info, but I already knew that.

    C) Which leads to my next point: Like any middle-aged American, I know dozens of people who are recreational drug users. I also know a couple dozen who have had their lives shredded and endangered by drug use. The line is often slight between those who control their drug use and those whose drug use controls them.

    I have tried – and will continue to try – to embrace my friends who struggle with drugs. I don’t applaud drug use, but I don’t dismiss those who use drugs. This a common stance among Americans. We condemn drug use, but we live and work and worship with those who struggle with drugs. It’s a contradiction. It also says good things about us.

    There’s no limit to what Michael Phelps can do with his life. This mistake – and I believe he made a mistake – doesn’t end his story. Barack Obama has confessed to drug use, and he’s the Leader of the Free World.

    Should I have written about Phelps? More than a few readers answered no. They said this is no big deal. They suggested  I shrug my shoulders and leave him alone.

    Leaving someone alone is easy.

    Leaving someone alone accomplishes nothing.

  • Hans is right: AFA should play CU

    Sat, April 25, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Hans Mueh has the right idea. He believes Air Force should play the University of Colorado in basketball. The Falcons need – badly need – games that will draw fans to Clune Arena. The Buffs have the same need. Both programs just finished dead last in their conferences. Fans aren’t exactly fighting each other to buy tickets.

    CU is just down the road. There’s no good reason not to play.

    AFA coach Jeff Reynolds has the wrong idea. He says he won’t play CU because the Buffs are coached by Jeff Bzdelik, whom Reynolds often describes as “my best friend.”

    Again, Mueh has the right idea. He has the right solution to this problem.

    “Sometimes you’ve just got to get past that and say, ‘Let’s have a friendly competition,’” Mueh told The Gazette’s Jake Schaller.

    (For a full look at Jake’s interview with Hans, go here: http://gazetteafasports.freedomblogging.com/

    Think about it. Say you’re in a pick-up basketball game at the gym, and the sides are selected and you say, “Can’t play this game. Can’t play against Jason. He’s my best friend.”

    Is friendship a good reason to walk away from a game?

    Of course not.

    But don’t expect Reynolds to budge on the issue.

    On Nov. 29, 2007, a few minutes after AFA lost to CU at Clune, Reynolds told me, “I won’t play them. As long as I’m the basketball coach here and Jeff Bzdelik is the basketball coach there we won’t play.”

    Two weeks ago, Reynolds repeated the words.

    He will not, he told me, play the Buffs while Bzdelik is the coach.

    What do you think?

    Should AFA play CU, regardless of the Reynolds-Bzdelik friendship?

  • A new image for The Snake in Colorado?

    Fri, April 24, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Suddenly, Jake Plummer doesn’t look so bad.

    As a starter, he led the Denver Broncos to 39 wins in 53 games. He led the Broncos to three straight trips to the playoffs. He led the Broncos to the 2005 AFC Title game.

    In three of the four years before Plummer’s arrival, the Broncos missed the playoffs. In the two seasons since he was removed as starter, the Broncos missed the playoffs. (Plummer and Jay Cutler led the Broncos on a wandering  journey that did not include the playoffs in 2006.)

    Plummer is  not as talented as Cutler. But Plummer was a  popular teammate. His offensive brethren embraced him. His defensive teammates respected him.

    Yes, he was a piece in strong, balanced Broncos teams. He didn’t lift the Broncos to the playoffs and winning records all by himself.

    But he was a solid, if not spectacular, quarterback. In 2005, he led the Broncos to a 14-3 record and home-field advantage in the title game against the Steelers.

    Everything was in place for Plummer to become a Colorado folk hero.

    And he blew it. After throwing seven interceptions in 17 games, he threw two interceptions, along with two fumbles, in one afternoon.

    But that lousy afternoon shouldn’t define him.

  • Joe Scott talks about Trevor Noonan

    Wed, April 22, 2009 by David Ramsey with 2 comments

    Trevor Noonan, the best freshman basketball player at Air Force this season, announced Tuesday he will transfer to the University of Denver.

     

    This is an interesting, and expected, twist in the Noonan saga. Joe Scott, who led AFA from 2000-2004, coaches at DU. A.J. Kuhle, one  of AFA’s all-time best players, works as Scott’s assistant. Jon Jordan and Mike McKee, both former AFA assistants, also work alongside Scott. (Jordan, an AFA grad, played three seasons for the Falcons.)

     

    And in 2010-2011, Noonan will play for the Pioneers. We might need to start referring to DU as AFA-North.

     

    I talked with Scott Wednesday afternoon and asked if he feels any discomfort with welcoming Noonan into the DU fold.

     

    I haven’t really thought about that,” Scott said. “I know that’s part of it, but we recruited him out of high school. He’s a local kid, and we have tons of kids from  Colorado. (Noonan played high school basketball at Broomfield, a Denver suburb.) 

     

    “We wanted him out of high school, and he chose a different route. As it worked out, obviously, the academy just wasn’t the right thing for him.

     

    “So he’s a guy we recruited out of high school. He’s a local kid and he’s interested in us. That’s the way I looked at  it. We’re happy that he’s interested in us.”

     

    Scott said he’s  not worried about his relationship with AFA’s  athletic department.

     

    “I just don’t think it comes into play. I have nothing but good feelings for that place, and I have good relationship with the  administration. Air Force is not for everybody. I know that more than  anybody.”

     

    Noonan showed flashes of potential in the final games of this season and his skill set seems ideal to Scott’s system.

     

    “I think he can be real good,” Scott said. “… When he gets coached every day by us and gets coached the way we do it,  it’s going to be good for him.”

     

    Scott said he’s comfortable with taking Noonan into the DU fold.

     

    Should he be comfortable?

     

    Let me know what  you think.

     

     

     

  • A history lesson from NBA playoffs past

    Wed, April 22, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Hornets coach Byron Scott is moaning about the physical play of Nuggets defensive specialist Dahntay Jones. All this means is there really is nothing new under the basketball sun.

    “When you get to the point where you’re being a little dirty then I don’t appreciate that – and I don’t respect it,” Scott said.

    Scott is upset by the way Jones defended Hornets star Chris Paul.

    In my view, Paul did a sensational acting job in Sunday’s loss. You might have heard of the late pop star The Big Bopper.

    Paul was The Big Flopper.

    Scott isn’t making a random observation. He’s talking, through newspapers and TV, to the officials who make the calls.

    And it may work.

    I’m an NBA history freak. I’ve spent far too many hours reading microfilm of old game stories and talking to players who were part of the league’s infancy.

    In 1955, the Syracuse Nationals met the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals. The teams were battling for the right to compete in the  NBA Finals, then known as the Basketball World Series. The Nationals – or Nats – would move to Philadelphia after the 1963 season to become the 76ers.

    Dolph Schayes was the star of the Nats. Bob Cousy was the star of the Celtics.

    Before Game One, Nats coach Al Cervi talked  with reporters about Cousy’s sneaky defensive tactics.

    “I hope the officials don’t protect Cousy,” Cervi said. “He’s good but he gets away with a lot of grabbing and pushing.”

    Officials must have been reading. They whistled Cousy for three fouls in the first quarter, forcing Celtics coach Red Auerbach to sit his star for most of the second period.

    The Nats beat the Celtics, won the series and toppled the Pistons – then based in Fort Wayne,  Ind. – in the Basketball World Series.

    Maybe Scott is a student of NBA history.

    Or maybe he’s just a whiner.

  • Jake the Snake’s part-time job

    Mon, April 20, 2009 by David Ramsey with no comments

    Jake Plummer is the new quarterbacks coach at Sandpoint High School in Idaho.

    And I think he’ll do a great job.

    Plummer did a terrific job hiding his best side during his four seasons with the Denver Broncos. He flipped off a fan at Invesco Field, allegedly battled with another driver on East Hampden in Denver and constantly squabbled with the media. Jay Cutler performed an excellent performance of a spoiled baby. Plummer was the rebel-without-a-clue teen.

    And yet …

    There’s much more to the man. I flew to Boise, Jake’s hometown, in the summer of 2003 and visited his high school friends. He’s amazingly loyal and unpretentious. When Jake came home, he wasn’t a big shot millionaire player from the NFL. He was the same old Jake.

    He gave big bucks to his high school. He donated money for new fields for Boise youth football leagues. He flew his high school coach to Denver to watch Broncos games. Jake lent his coach his car, paid for his meals, treated him like a king.

    Away from the spotlight is where Plummer thrives. He’s 34 years old, married to a former Broncos cheerleader and essentially retired.

    He needs something to do, and working with young players is the perfect task.

    Air Force’s Troy Calhoun coached with the Denver Broncos from 2003-2005 and worked with Plummer. Calhoun is a fan of Plummer - on and off the field.

    “He’ll do a really, really good job with teenagers,” Calhoun said. “He’ll be a good teacher, and a really good communicator.”

    Good for Jake Plummer. And good for Sandpoint High.

    Later this week, I’ll take a look at Plummer’s work as Broncos quarterback. The Snake’s days in Denver are looking better and better all the time.

  • Tyler Hamilton and winning

    Sat, April 18, 2009 by David Ramsey with 2 comments

    On an August afternoon in Athens, Tyler Hamilton took off his shirt and showed a dozen sports writers the most revolting back on our planet.

    He revealed seven massive bruises, which descended in a line from his left shoulder to the right corner of his lower back. The bruises were more than a  month old, but still looked red and angry.

    Hamilton looked as if he belonged in a hospital bed. Instead, he was preparing to cycle in the men’s individual time trial at the 2004 Olympics.

    It was a glimpse at the cost of competing as an elite cyclist. It was a glimpse of a man who would do anything,  endure anything, in his pursuit of victory.

    Hamilton announced his retirement from cycling Friday. He had failed, once again, a doping test. He didn’t bother proclaiming his innocence, which is the norm after such failures. We all remember Floyd Landis’ weird series of excuses after being busted.

    Hamilton admitted he had taken the banned substance, saying it was one  of the ingredients in his herbal anti-depressant.

    It’s a sad exit. It really is.

    A couple days after Hamilton revealed his hideous bruises, he raced through the streets of Athens, including a spin past the Parthenon, to a gold medal. It was his grandest moment. After spending his career in the shadow of fellow American Lance Armstrong, Hamilton finally stood alone in the bright lights.

    But he soon failed a test that revealed he had engaged in banned blood transfusions. He ended up beating the rap because of faulty testing methods, but his legacy was  tainted.

    Why did Hamilton cheat?

    The same reason  Barry Bonds and Landis and Mark McGwire and Marion Jones cheated.

    They wanted to win. They would pay any cost to win. Winning was a requirement. Winning brought fame and big stacks of cash. Winning was worth anything.

    Hamilton isn’t a big man. He stands 5-foot-8 and weighs 134 pounds, but his spirit is huge.  In 2002, he suffered a fractured shoulder  while racing in the Giro d’Italia, but refused to surrender, gritting his teeth – literally – and riding to second place. Later, a dentist told him he had ground down 11 of his teeth during the agonizing ride.

    He didn’t let pain get in the way of his pursuit of victory and glory.

    Dopers make for strange sports villains. Our sports culture preaches to athletes that they must be willing to pay any price to excel.

    But that same sports culture prohibits using steroids to fuel that  pursuit of excellence. I believe, strongly, that this prohibition is the only sane way to go.

    Still, it’s tough not to feel sympathy for Hamilton, and his cheating brethren. They got confused and  lost their way.

    But I can’t help but wonder how much we helped them get lost.

  • Goodbye to John Madden

    Thu, April 16, 2009 by David Ramsey with 2 comments

    John Madden is departing the broadcast booth.

    And I’m  sorry to see him go.

    I enjoyed his approach. He knew his stuff. That was obvious. He won a Super  Bowl while coaching the Raiders.

    But he didn’t take himself – or the game – too seriously. He brought humor to the broadcast booth. His sometimes goofy approach offended several of my NFL-freak friends, who wanted him – and every other broadcaster – to stick to the action, but I often laughed when watching Madden. He made the game more fun to watch.

    A few years ago, I talked with Madden. He’s friends with Lance Barrow, the CBS producer for NFL games, and I was writing a profile of Barrow.

    Madden was about what I expected. We talked a lot about restaurants. The man does like to eat, and he offered some great – and surprisingly affordable – dining tips.

    I wanted – really wanted – to ask him  one question, but never quite found the nerve, partially because the question had nothing to do with Barrow or anything related to the decade we were living in.

    During the 1977 AFC Title game, Broncos linebacker Tom Jackson made a tackle right in front  of Madden and then indulged in a loud, profane tirade.

    Broncos legend has it Jackson shouted, “It’s all over,  Fat Man!” along with several obscene words.

    I didn’t ask Madden about the encounter. He probably didn’t want to travel back to that afternoon.

    The Raiders, as you probably remember, lost that game to the Broncos.